Last week, the Branded in the 80s blog beat me to the punch in writing about 70s horror-humor comics "Plop!" Now, this week, he's scooped me on posting about the Freddy Krueger/Nightmare on Elm Street fan club kit that was advertised in comic books in the late 1980s. I came across this ad again recently while reading a 1988 (maybe '87?) issue of "Suicide Squad" and remember how much I wanted this back in the day. Too bad the price was nearly a hundred bucks, definitely far more than my budget as an 11-year-old would allow. I can still remember the dark promises this macabre goody bag seemed to offer. Anyway, check it out over at Branded in the 80s. I case I didn't praise his blog enough the last time, it's great for some incisive, witty and decidedly unpretentious pop culture coverage.
Since I had such a good time with an anthology film last night, I decided to make another go of it last night, picking something a little more recent, 1989's "After Midnight," which was written and directed by Jim and Ken Wheat. The Wheat brothers are probably desk known for the creating the "Pitch Black" franchise, which I've heard is pretty good, although like a lot of films like that (The Matrix, for example, and all its various sequels and clones), what with all the fancy editing and CGI, when I tried to watch it ("Pitch Black," that is) on TV the other night, it was sort of like watching a train go by. I understood what I was seeing, even if alot of it didn't totally register, and it made me slightly dizzy and nauseous.
"After Midnight," which I'd seen once before, made for a much less stupefying cinematic experience. It's slight, in the way that most late-80s horror is pretty slight, but appealing, with good production value and a strong cast including Pamela Adlon (voice of Bobby Hill on "King of the Hill," also on two of the grottiest cable comedies of recent years, "Lucky Louie" and "Californication, " and a very cute, likable performer), Marge Helgenberger (China Beach, CSI), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the original Superman movie, Boris in the original "Freaky Friday"), Penelope Sudrow (the blonde girl from "Nightmare on Elm Street 3"), Tracy Wells (the daughter on "Mr. Belvedere"), Ramy Zada (from George Romero's section of "Two Evil Eyes") and, maybe best of all, Alex Cox regular Luis Contreas (probably best known, to me anyway, as the security guard in "Repo Man," he's also in Cox's "Straight to Hell" as well as "The Jerk" and "Pee Wee's Big Adventure").
The stories themselves aren't that great, but the conception and acting is good enough to hold interest, and unlike many other horror films of the era, or any era for that matter, it rarely falls back on humor, and often in many cases is willing to provide unhappy endings and kill off likable characters in the name is staying fresh and unpredictable. The best entry is the middle section with Sudrow and Wells as 2 of 4 teenage girls who get lost on a night out in the big city, are accosted by the creepy Contreas, then pursued by his pack of angry dogs after they manage to escape him. This section is suspenseful and plays on fairly realistic fears.
The other 2 stories are also about characters who are being pursued by a killer, or at least believe they are, and are less compelling, though Helgenberger makes a strong lead in the final entry. There's also a fairly silly framing story, with Adlon and Zada, about a college professor trying to teach his students the meaning of fear, or something. Actually, I don't know if at the time that felt like as much of a cliche as it does now (see "Scream 2," "Urban Legends" and pretty much any other recent horror film that takes place on a college campus), so maybe it was still kind of fresh at the time (actually, I've seen a late-60s/early-70s "Night Gallery" episode that covers more or less the same ground, so I suspect not). Anyway, the framing story gets kinda of crazy at the end, and leads to some impressive stop motion effects of a walking, axe-wielding skeleton. I guess this is as much of a cliche as anything else, but I often really miss practical special effects in movies, particularly stop-motion, miniatures and matte painted backgrounds. They just give movies a more lifelike texture than CGI offers.
Anyway, "After Midnight" isn't the best movie ever made but it does have plenty to offer. Check it out, if you dare...